Note: This is part of a series of reflective posts that form part of a university course that I am taking. I hope that you will find something valuable in my reflections as well.
"...we teachers have an immense power when it comes to nurturing a love of reading or killing it. "
- Pernille Ripp
Kids these days have more activities vying for their attention than ever before - Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, video games, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, Tiktok, sports, extracurricular lessons and...reading? Are kids even reading these days?
According to book publisher Scholastic 50% of kids read books for fun 1-4 days a week and 34% read books for fun 6-7 days a week. So yes, despite all the demands on their time, kids are reading. In fact, frequent readers read an average of 43 books per year (in case you're wondering, infrequent readers read 7 books while moderately frequent readers read an average of 14 books)! That's a lot of books!
So what's driving this reading habit? The reading habits of young people correlate almost directly with the reading habits of their parents, with 45% of parents reading for fun 1-4 days a week and 32% reading for fun 6-7 days per week. Even more telling, 57% of parents who are frequent readers have children who are frequent readers, reminding us that children really do imitate their adults. And, for a good part of each day, we are their adults. If we want to create a culture of reading in our schools, we need to be modelling reading at every turn, whether that means reading a book ourselves during silent reading, actively reading and highlighting books that would appeal to our students or incorporating non-negotiable daily read aloud times. If we want our students to read, we need to demonstrate that we too are readers.
Actively displaying our own reading lives is always important, but even more so in schools that serve lower socioeconomic areas. A 2019 survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of adults in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less had not read a book in the last year and 36% of adults in households earning $30,000 or less also had not read a book in the last year. Kids coming from these homes are less likely to see reading happening in any form at home and therefore desperately need to see it modelled at school.
But, I can hear you say, but... the days are so jam-packed already. But...I use silent reading time to organize my small groups/mark/plan/insert other very necessary teaching job here. But...my reading block is only 45 minutes long. But...I don't really like to read myself (gasp! It's true though, there are teachers out there who rarely read for pleasure, especially during the school year). But, but, but. I know, I get it. Teaching is a never-ending job and we can all find a good use for those quiet 15 minutes after lunch. That being said, where attention goes, energy flows (thanks, Tony Robbins. I think. That quote is attributed to about 10 different people). If we value reading and believe that it is an important, we need to focus on it. We need to actively work, as a whole staff, to create a culture of reading in our schools so that students see evidence of adults reading at every turn. To make it easier for you to begin to create a culture of reading in your school, here are
5 simple ways to create a culture of reading that you can implement tomorrow.
1. Prominently display what you are reading
This simple strategy comes from Pernille Ripp, the reading culture guru herself, and it couldn't be easier to implement. Simply print up a sign that says "_____________is reading..." and post it somewhere everyone can see (mine is in the hall outside my classroom, a colleague posted her's in her classroom window. Whatever floats your boat as long as it's visible). If you want to get fancy, add a photo or your bitmoji to your sign and laminate it to use year after year. As you are reading, simply Google the cover image of the book, print it and post it on your sign. Once you've finished the book, move it to the wall around the sign. Easy peasy! Everyone will know you're a reader and will want to ask you about the books you've read.
2. Read when they read
This might be the lowest prep strategy on this list but that doesn't make it the easiest. Teachers are always looking for those extra few minutes in the day when the class is quiet and they can make a cup of tea, tidy their desk, sneak in a bit of marking or planning or meet with a small group or 1-1. This strategy requires you to fight the urge to be productive (in the conventional sense) and just read. Read whatever you want, although reading something your students might be interested in gives you the added bonus of being able to recommend it later (and get a jump on actually reading ALL the lit circle books this year!). In reality, while you will want to be diligent with this strategy in the beginning, you can probably move to conferencing with students once your students see you as a reader; read diligently every day for a month or two, then drop down to 2-3 days per week and use the other days to talk books with kids during this time.
3. Sell Sell Sell
Now that you've begun reading all these fabulous books, talk them up to kids like you are a multi-level marketer about to make the jump to the next tier. And while you're at it, talk them up to other teachers too. A whole school reading culture depends on people who are actively promoting books and reading every chance they get. Be that person.
4. Read Aloud
If you ask me, read alouds are something we get rid of too quickly in schools. We have this impression that only little kids want to be read aloud to and so we stop reading aloud once kids are old enough to read to themselves (Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report Canadian Edition found that only 16% of kids are read aloud to at home after age 8). But if you've seen Dead Poets Society, then you've seen first-hand the power of a read aloud at any age. Beyond being great modelling of rhythm, cadence and expression, read alouds are enjoyable. They allow the mind to relax and enjoy the story in ways that it doesn't necessarily do when reading silently. Not sure what to read? Check out The Read Aloud Revival for great recommendations for all ages. Worried about tripping over your words or not reading with expression? Try an audiobook from Audible or Libro.fm (bonus - check out the free Advanced Listener Copies for educators).
5. Get Everyone on board
Ok, so this may actually be the hardest strategy on this list (see aforementioned comment about teachers not reading, especially during the school year) but it IS doable. While the science and math teachers may not see the value in introducing a read-aloud to their class time, they may be willing to try it during homeroom, particularly if you provide them with an audiobook. Better yet, provide the whole school with the same audiobook and set aside 10 minutes each day for classes to listen to it. Just imagine the discussion in the hallways! Or perhaps they'd be willing to post what they read for pleasure outside their classroom door, even if it might not be their students' cup of tea. And don't forget the custodians, crossing guards, noon hour supervisors and any other adult in the building. Remember, the goal is to have students see adults reading, whatever that may look like.
Creating a culture of reading in your school isn't as hard as it seems. A few simple steps will get you started off in the right direction, and that momentum will bring others on board pretty quickly. Soon enough, you will find that conversations about books are happening all over the school, from the office, to the library, to the classrooms, to the hallways; adults sharing with students, students sharing with adults, adults sharing with adults and students sharing with students. The more kids see and hear books being read and promoted, the more they will benefit. So, what are you waiting for? Choose a strategy and get started tomorrow!
I have not participated in It's Monday What Are You Reading? in a very long time but lately I have found myself missing this community of readers. I have been following the lovely Carrie Gelson's blog (thereisabookforthat.com) for quite awhile now and she has been drawing me back with her wonderful descriptions of new books (and the way she shares them in her classroom; I would love to be a learner in her room). I have also been doing a lot of reading lately and want to share it. So, here we are, back to joining #IMWAYR.
I always like to have a theme to my #IMWAYR posts. Themes help me organize my thoughts and bring cohesion to my final product - whether that is a blog post, a birthday party or a new unit I am prepping for a class. While choosing a theme can sometimes be a process (I'm looking at you birthday parties!), more often than not themes seem to gradually make themselves known to me until they are so obvious that I can no longer ignore them. In this case, the theme comes from the recent movie release of Wonder, an adaptation of the book by R.J. Palacio.
Wonder (R.J. Palacio) - A truly transformational read, Wonder tells the story of a young boy who, due to a severe facial deformity, has been home-schooled his whole life. Now, in Gr. 5, his parents have enrolled him in public school. As Auggie negotiates life in middle school we learn not just about him but about all of the people around him and all of the ways that his condition touch their lives. Much like the books below, this book is a fabulous gateway to discussing differences, kindness, bullying and more. With the addition of the movie it becomes even more accessible to our young readers.
Highly Illogical Behavior (John Corey Whaley) - Just finished this one and really enjoyed it. I will put out there right off the bat that, although this is a book that could be read at the middle school level, there are a few swear words and a fair bit of discovering your sexuality (no sex scenes but lots of talk about it), so I wouldn't recommend it for general consumption below Gr. 9 (aside: we were chatting the other day at a district gifted/enrichment meeting about needing to allow some precocious readers to read above their pay grade. Some kids are ready for this material earlier than others and, with parent permission, that's a-ok). Anyway, back to the book. Highly Illogical Behavior nails the teenage characters in all of their awkwardness and enthusiasm; they are stereotypical but with just enough of a twist that they are endearing - the highly-driven keener (with a dysfunctional family), the jock (who loves Star Trek and is reluctant in the bedroom), the lovable Star Trek fan (who hasn't left the house in 3 years). The premise - that of an agoraphobic teen who hasn't stepped foot outside of his house in 3 years - and the journey the characters embark on together is rich fodder for classroom discussions about differences, mental illness, helping others, friendships and more. Definitely a book worth sharing!
A Mango-Shaped Space (Wendy Mass) - What a wonderful book! A Mango-Shaped Space takes a look at a young girl with synesthesia, a condition that causes her to see colours for letters and words. I loved the way this book explored the way Mia's feelings about her condition develop and change; nothing felt forced or awkward about Mass' portrayal of a teen coming to grips with who she is and who she wants to be. I can definitely see many kids making lots of connections to this book! Much like Highly Illogical Behavior, this is a great choice for discussing differences, loss and friendships.
Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper) - I've blogged about this one (and my I'm-not-so-sure-I-loved-it feeling) before. The subject matter was fascinating - the idea that a very intelligent person could be trapped in a body that prevents them from sharing their intelligence really makes you stop and think about some of the kiddos we come across. Are we underestimating them? If they could communicate, what would they say? How can we provide them with opportunities to show what they know? Definitely transformative thoughts to be had there.
At the same time, I just didn't really love the book. I found many of the terms used to be quite dated ("way cool", "that's what's up"), which made the book feel a bit stilted. I also think that many of my students would have trouble connecting to the students in this book; in many ways it felt like an adult's interpretation of how kids behave and what they say. Finally, the climax (which I won't spoil for you) felt forced; possible, yes, but not very likely. All in all, I loved the concept of this book and think it could spark some very interesting discussions; ultimately, however, it fell a bit flat for me.
The Honest Truth (Dan Gemeinhart) - This is a heart-breaking book (expect tears!) about a boy who decides that he is too much of a burden for his family and friends, so he runs away to fulfill a dream or die trying. Told from his point of view and that of his best friend, Jessie, we get a clear picture of two very different perspectives on the same event. Well-written for the middle grades but be aware that the content is pretty heavy and there are some dark scenes. Again, though, another great book for exploring friendships, differences, illness, dreams and more.
I can imagine using all of these books in a themed (of course) lit circle, along with classics like The Outsiders. The rich conversations that all of these books will inevitably spark are so enticing! Stay tuned for a differences-themed lit circle task cards unit that I am working on...any of these books would be a perfect fit.
Have a wonderful week!
This is the first in a series of posts about using technology in your classroom to support all learners. While it will mainly focus on iPads since that's the technology we have at our school, many of these apps are also available for Android and some even have computer versions.
Audible is an easy-to-use, cloud-based provider of audio books. They have thousands of titles available for purchase and a number of different purchase plans. I love that their titles are read by professional readers, often by well-known actors. While this may not seem like a big thing, it really changes a student's enjoyment of a book when it is read by an actor versus being read by a computer. Both novels and picture books are available, and new books are added regularly. Another cool thing, if you happen to be working with Kindle devices, is WhisperSync; when you own both the audio and Kindle versions of the book, they will automatically sync to your last read spot, regardless of whether or not you were listening or reading. A great tool for kids who want to listen to their book on the walk home and then pick the kindle version up at bedtime.
How I use it: This app is a definite must for kids with learning disabilities in reading. I also find that it works very well for reluctant readers who just don't want to read, as well as for fluency practice for younger readers. It can be used on its own or paired with the paper copy of the book for maximum effect.
Available for: iPad, iPhone, Android,Windows Phone, PC, Mac
Ruckus Readers. These semi-animated books on the iPad are just wonderful! The illustrations are bright and colourful, with just a little bit of animation. They have tons of titles, both fiction and non-fiction, that kids really enjoy (lots of TV and movie tie-ins but more than enough that aren't) and the books are levelled so you can tailor them to the needs in your class. Each one has the choice of read to self or read to me and the pacing of the read to me is well done, with the words highlighted in yellow as you go. Another neat feature is the incorporation of simple games that allow readers to win virtual stickers; my favourite game is the pop-up sparkles that appear after the text has been read. Once readers tap the sparkle, a word appears, which they then have to find in the text. Kids love this! Unfortunately, most of the books are for in-app purchase, so you do have to be prepared to spend some cash if you want to use this app.
How I use it: At the moment, Ruckus readers are used primarily in the Lit Pit as an option at the Love to Read station. I would love to buy more as the kids seem to have made their way through all of the free options I initially downloaded. The librarian (who, thankfully, is also tech focused) and I are going to have to make some decisions about how options such as these factor in to our budget!
RAZ-Kids. If you are not yet familiar with this site and app, you need to be! RAZ-Kids is the online, levelled library of Reading A-Z, who produce a variety of reading, vocabulary and writing materials, most notably printable levelled books both fiction and non. Once you have purchased a very reasonably priced subscription, you are able to give your students access to colourful books that can be read to them (well-paced, with word tracking), read on their own and with a brief comprehension quiz at the end. The books are engaging and the reading is well done. My students love earning points to help them build their rocket and they also enjoy completing a level and moving to the next one. One of the great features of this app is that students are able to access this app/site easily at home as well. I love that their log in system is simple, even if multiple classrooms are using the same iPads - once you've entered the teacher's name once, it becomes a button on the main login screen, ensuring that no one has to remember their rather complicated login and password information.
How I use it: This app gets used pretty much everywhere in our school: classroom, Lit Pit, intervention room, home. Many classroom teachers use it as a center or to help students who need fluency practice during silent reading. I use it to engage some of my struggling readers while I work with others in their small group. With the great diversity of non-fiction titles offered, I can also easily find books to support a classroom theme or help a student with material for a research project that I know is at their level. The printable books are fabulous for being sent home as home reading (it's really not a big deal if they get lost) and also allow students to mark them up as we search for specific sounds or practice a particular reading strategy. Definitely get some parent help to put the printables together though - it's a lot of work!
Have you got any favourite apps you use to get kids reading? I would love to hear about them!
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!